A few days ago, Marvel released a five-page preview of its Miracleman #1, scheduled for 15 January publication.
First, the pages support my belief that recoloring the series isn’t a problem. Some fans have been concerned about this, but the fact is that computer coloring techniques have improved dramatically in the previous two decades. These techniques now allow for much of the detail of the original black-and-white art to be retained, despite the application of colors. Eclipse’s coloring job often obscured these intricate details (especially in Garry Leach’s art), which was a shame. Marvel’s preview pages bear this out, and there’s no doubt that they’re superior to the coloring jobs we’ve previously seen.
In fact, Eclipse actually colored the first Miracleman book twice. The first was when Eclipse serialized these reprints in color for the first time, as part of the Miracleman title. The colors there obscured a lot of detail, and several figures or objects were simply given a flat, bland color. Eclipse realized these colors weren’t great, and when it came time to collect Book One, Eclipse had the colors redone.
When you see color pages from Book One online, they’re usually from the serialized version, not the collected version (which, in fairness, few people own; the regular title sold a lot better than the collections). Comparing Eclipse’s original coloring to Marvel’s new coloring is no contest and isn’t really fair; even Eclipse acknowledged that coloring was lacking and had it redone. Still, comparing the colored pages from Eclipse’s trade paperback edition to Marvel’s new pages demonstrates the power of these newer coloring techniques.
Time for a comparison. Here’s the final page of Book One’s chapter 1, as it originally appeared in Warrior, in black and white:
As you can see, Garry Leach’s artwork is stunningly beautiful. At this point in his career, Leach was adding an absurd level of detail to his work, which really enhanced what the strip was doing, in terms of telling a more realistic super-hero story than ever before.
Now, here’s the same page from Eclipse’s Miracleman #1:
This is at least in color, but that’s about all that can be said for it. The moon is orange. The Earth is a uniform purple. Miracleman’s face is a pinkish-purple. In the first panel, most of the background buildings are also just a uniform purple. Next to them is a building that Leach shaded, which looks beautiful in black-and-white. It’s been colored brown, a dark color that makes this shading look like dirt; a lighter color would have shown off Leach’s shading work better.
There’s also a general sloppiness on clear display. Look at how the motion lines over the moon are just colored along with the moon. Or how the yellow on Miracleman’s ankle bleeds out of its container. Or how the yellow energy around his one fist magically doesn’t overlap the distant Earth, while Miracleman’s other fist has a similar area around it that’s inexplicably not colored yellow.
Also, a lot of Leach’s details simply disappear. If you look at the Earth, all those tiny lines Leach added are simply gone. This might be understandable, because at the time the original art was almost certainly manipulated in order to add color to it. But it’s kind of infuriating to realize that this detail has been lost from the clouds in the first panel too — and those clouds aren’t even colored.
Okay, enough; you get the idea. On to the same page from Eclipse’s trade paperback Miracleman, Book One: A Dream of Flying:
This is a vast improvement, and it’s clear that, in redoing the colors, Eclipse went all the way back to the original art, because Leach’s detail is back, and the crazy color choices (like purple and orange) are gone. Miracleman’s face is flesh-colored! All that sloppiness is gone, and there’s a real attention to detail. There are even subtle bits of coloring, like shading parts of the clouds or the Earth a light blue, or shading parts of the moon with brown and blue hues.
But while this is miles beyond the first colored version, preserving Leach’s detail has caused the colorist to make some very conservative choices. If you look throughout the collection, you’ll see that the colors look rather muted, in order to not wash out the detail in the original art. You see that here in the sky and clouds of the first panel, and in the second panel in the Earth and Moon, as well as Miracleman’s motion lines. As an antidote to the first coloring job, this is phenomenal work. But in doing no harm to the detail of the original art, the coloring is a little muted or whitewashed, with too much of the page looking like it’s barely not in black-and-white. I suspect that this isn’t the colorist’s fault; it’s probably the best that could be done in the 1980s.
Without further ado, here’s the just-released Marvel version of the same page:
It should be noted that this Marvel page is subject to change, prior to its release, but… wow. The Earth isn’t only blue, but the different shades of white and blue have managed to add to Leach’s detail, instead of subtracting from it. This is what’s expected of present-day coloring, which routinely adds detail to the art, making surfaces look more three-dimensional. If you look at Miracleman himself, Leach’s detail is preserved, but the coloring is able to make him look like an actual human in three-dimensional space for the first time. This is what coloring is supposed to do today, and it’s done well here.
This is even more clearer in the page’s first panel, where the clouds aren’t mostly white for the very first time. You see the effect of sun and shadow there, and the choice of a darker color is excellent. You can see the same attention to sunlight on the buildings themselves. Miracleman’s explosion through the roof is simply beautiful. The colorist has carefully colored around all those little fragments of roof, and added different shades of yellow and blue to the explosion itself, as well as different shades to the debris. The effect is subtle but quite stunning.
This new coloring job is also a bit reserved. You’ll note that it doesn’t color Miracleman’s motion lines, nor the apparent energy around his fists. But this coloring job doesn’t feel muted, the way the Eclipse trade paperback colors do.
While this kind of thing would be impossible without current computer coloring techniques, the success of this coloring job shouldn’t be reduced to “coloring techniques have improved.” It’s clear from the new colors that Marvel is taking this material seriously. One of the problems, when recoloring old material using current techniques, is that it’s very easy to overdo these computer effects because you can. This is most frequently seen in the adding of computer-generated gradients to make faces and the like appear more three-dimensional. But when this is overdone, it can look more artificial, like a computer model that uses artificial light sources, than realistic and three-dimensional. Moreover, this often looks especially weird when applied to old artwork, if only because seeing familiar artwork with that kind of aggressive computer coloring feels wrong. Here, the colorist has done a beautiful and precise job that enhances the original artwork but doesn’t draw attention to itself.
Just look at that beautiful shading in the first panel. It’s so much more dynamic, but it’s preserving and improving what’s there, instead of altering it in a way that diminishes the original. It honors not only Leach’s detail but the feel of the original.
The coloring is pretty masterful, actually. Miracleman‘s never looked better.
And this is a very good sign, by the way, for those concerned about how Marvel would handle Miracleman.
You may also notice that the artwork is taller than before, showing just a little more, above what we’d seen of the Earth and below Miracleman’s lower foot. This could be a modification to Leach’s original art, but it’s more likely that Marvel’s used that art and isn’t cropping it as aggressively as was necessary back in the Warrior days.
Also, the original pages have been relettered as well as recolored. The new lettering is very close to the original, again suggesting Marvel’s sense of fidelity — and that it’s handling this well. While it may not seem like there’s much need to reletter this particular page, other Eclipse pages sometimes erased “Marvelman” and replaced it with “Miracleman” in really obvious ways, with a different-sized font and whitespace around the inserted word. Once Eclipse started printing new material (in the middle of Book Two), the lettering drastically changed and was a lot larger, looking very inconsistent with earlier chapters. Relettering everything in a consistent style that’s faithful to the look of the original makes sense, and it’s another sign Marvel’s doing this right and is out to produce the definitive Miracleman.
Here are all four versions, side by side for easier comparison:
But there’s more to react to, in the preview of Marvel’s Miracleman #1, than the new coloring.
The preview contains two pages from the prologue that Eclipse added for Miracleman #1 but didn’t include in its collections. It’s a fantastic prologue, which adds a lot to the story and is a brilliant way of introducing the series, especially for audiences not so familiar with Britain’s Marvelman. This is another very good sign, suggesting that Marvel’s editing the series smartly.
It’s not really clear how Marvel intends to break up its serialized content by issue. It looks like issue #1 will contain this prologue, along with Book One’s chapter one. That’s a total of 19 pages of story. The issue will have a lot of back-up material, no doubt. Readers might complain because of the $5.99 cover price, but I’ve got no problem with essentially doing chapter one and accompanying material as its own issue.
Issue #2 is a bit more confusing. The solicitation says that issue #2 will reprint material originally published in Warrior #1-5, which doesn’t make sense. The story in issue #1 was Book One’s first chapter, which Marvel will be including in its new Miracleman #1. Even more puzzling, Warrior #4 contained the flash-forward “The Yesterday Gambit,” which wasn’t part of any of Eclipse’s printings. It might be cool to have it placed in its original sequence, and readers would probably be thrilled to see it, many for the first time and everyone for the first time in color. However, it doesn’t really make sense shunted between chapters three and four of Book One. Maybe Marvel’s Miracleman #2 will include “The Yesterday Gambit” as a back-up, which would make more sense. It should be noted, however, that while this would be a very cool feature for the new Miracleman #2, the story is best not included in the collected Book One.
Then again, the solicitation could simply be wrong; solicitations often contain errors. If issue #2 doesn’t include the story from Warrior #1, maybe it also won’t include the story from Warrior #4 either. The stories from Warrior #2-3 and #5 amount to 18 pages of story, and would end on a classic cliffhanger. Presumably, this issue will also have back-up material; whether “The Yesterday Gambit” (which is 10 pages long) is part of that material isn’t yet clear. The bottom line is that we don’t know exactly what Marvel’s second issue will contain, so it’s hard to know what these contents mean for Marvel’s larger editorial strategy for Miracleman.
There is one final thing to remark upon, about the preview — something I haven’t read anyone else point out. Marvel’s solicitation for the first two issues credited Alan Moore as “the Original Writer” — following Moore’s request. Yet the preview credits Alan Moore by name.
This is actually a pretty big deal. I’m not sure what Marvel’s deal is with Alan Moore, and whether Moore could rescind his permission to reprint the material. While these Miracleman preview pages are only online and not part of the final product, this situation recalls Marvel’s reprinting of Moore’s Captain Britain work (which he had previously withheld from being reprinted). The first printing of the Moore / Davis Captain Britain trade paperback failed to include the copyright information that Marvel had promised Moore to include, prompting Moore’s public ire at Marvel going back on its deal. Joe Quesada had to apologize publicly and make sure that subsequent printings would contain the appropriate language. Fortunately, this material is still in print from Marvel, so this gaff didn’t scuttle things. I’m confident this new one won’t scuttle Miracleman either, but it’s still a gaff. Even before Marvel prints its first issue, it’s failed to follow through on always crediting Moore as “the Original Writer.”
Unfortunately, crediting Moore on this preview is the kind of mistake that’s kind of inevitable, to be honest, in big operations like Marvel. (Heck, it’s inevitable in a lot smaller operations; trust me on this.) They guy sending the preview pages isn’t the guy making the solicitations, and while Marvel higher-ups probably paid a lot of attention to make sure the solicitations and actual issues would credit “the Original Writer,” I’m sure this same kind of micromanaging wasn’t applied to the preview process. It’s the kind of thing that can be attributed to corporate shenanigans if you insist, but that’s best explained by a business being a big operation with lots of moving parts, in different offices and locations. All of these parts are used to doing things a certain way and have a lot on their mind in any given day. These parts also just aren’t perfect at communicating specific points of information from department to department, and then down (or up) the chain of command within those other departments.
Still, someone at Marvel didn’t get the memo — which I would imagine had “the Original Writer” in big letters with big red underlines.
Marvel’s new Miracleman #1 arrives 15 January 2014. The cover above, while included in the preview for the issue, is an altered version of the cover to Eclipse’s issue #1; the final version will have a Joe Quesada cover.
It’s not often that we get to experience comics history in the making and also get to know it at the time. This is one of those times.